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Military helicopter crash kills 18 on Colombian border

Latest update : 2009-05-04

A Venezuelan military helicopter crashed while patrolling the Colombian border, killing at least 17 soldiers and one civilian, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced in his weekly television programme "Hello Mr.President".

AFP - A Venezuelan military helicopter crashed while patrolling the border with Colombia Sunday, killing at least 18 people, President Hugo Chavez said.

Those killed included General Domingo Faneite, 16 soldiers of varying ranks and a civilian, Chavez said in his weekly radio and television program "Hello Mr. President."

"I pay tribute to these soldiers of the homeland, especially general Faneite, who was my cadet," said Chavez, a retired Army lieutenant colonel.

The president did not specify where the accident took place or its suspected cause.

Chavez also blasted the annual terror report released by the US State Department on Thursday that listed Havana and Tehran as state sponsors of terrorism, and raised concerns about Caracas. The report also said Venezuela was neglecting to patrol its borders.

"Look at how we have suffered from the internal conflict in Colombia, which is also fueled by US warmongers, by the dogs of war who are selling weapons to fuel conflict," he said.

"They accuse us of not patrolling the border. How many lives have we, Venezuelans, lost in the conflict in Colombia? Eighteen Venezuelans died today, Sunday, while patrolling the border and the US government accuses us of not patrolling the border."

Chavez said that he had spoken about the conflict in Colombia when he met with US President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in April.

"I told him: there is Colombia, Obama. I am willing to help in the search for peace; but it would be great if Obama said it, and were trying to achieve peace instead of fueling the war."

Republicans have pounced on the encounter, with photos showing Obama smiling as he shook Chavez's hand and patted him on the shoulder, saying it was a sign of weakness on the part of the US leader.

The State Department report accused Venezuela of limiting its counter-terrorism cooperation because of Chavez's ideological sympathy with Colombia's left-wing guerrilla groups.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Thursday called the report an example of US "doublespeak," saying it fit with the approach of the administration of former president George W. Bush.

The report also charged that "Venezuelan citizenship, identity, and travel documents remained easy to obtain, making Venezuela a potentially attractive way-station for terrorists."

Tensions between neighbors Colombia and Venezuela soared a year ago after Colombia bombed a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel base inside Ecuador, a Venezuela ally. Both countries reinforced their border areas with troops but stopped short of military action.

Colombia's largest guerrilla group with an estimated 7,000 fighters, FARC continues to hold some 22 Colombian police and soldiers it wants to exchange for imprisoned colleagues.

Date created : 2009-05-03